By Suthichai Yoon The Nation Published on November 18, 2010
Is the new Army chief, General Prayuth Em-Ocha, more inclined toward staging a coup than his predecessor, General Anupong Paochinda? That's the question a lot of people have wanted to pose to the new Army commander-in-chief, but it would have been too sensitive a query. Besides, who wants to be the rat to bell the cat?
But then, as it turned out, the "cat" was more or less ready to be belled anyway.
That's why, when a reporter posed the question about a statement by Jatuporn Promphan, a red-shirt leader, saying the yellow shirts had raised the issue of aThai-Khmer memoranda of understanding on border demarcation with the clear intention to instigate the military to stage a coup, General Prayuth seized upon the opportunity to make clear his stand:
"Who wants to stage a coup at this time? We already have a democracy under the monarchy. Other countries may have democracy but they don't have the institution of the monarchy like the one we have."
Then, without prompting, the Army chief went on to justify the previous coup: "I don't really want to talk about the past, but the last time that [a coup] happened, it was to prevent a calamity. Once they did it, they went back to the normal, democratic track."
Of course, he was being cautious. General Prayuth is a much more outspoken general than his predecessor. He might be much more forthright on this issue in private. But he has already been criticised for "speaking out of turn" in the few public statements he has made since he took over the Army's top post on October 1.
General Prayuth has made it clear he won't tolerate attempts by any group to be involved in activities that could even be remotely considered lese majeste. He has made this mission his personal crusade, and some critics fear that he might cite certain actions he finds offensive in this regard to do what he says he won't do if he can help it.
If you read between the lines of what he has said all along, there is no guarantee that the last coup will really be the "last" attempt to tamper with the democratic rules to "re-set" the country's political system.
Interestingly enough, a few days later on November 12, "Big Jiew", General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, chairman of the Pheu Thai Party, gave a speech to an in-house seminar in which he touched on this highly (un)popular subject:
"Two days ago, someone asked whether the military will stage another coup. I told them if they did [citing reasons given by the previous coup-leaders], then it's everyone for himself. I would be terribly upset, of course.
"If I had known this would be the trend, I should have done it myself. That's because if you knew how to stage a coup, then you can build democracy. End of story. But what they did was to tear up the constitution and draw up a new one. That's why Thailand has had so many [torn-up] charters."
In other words, General Chavalit isn't necessarily against a coup. The problem is that the military takeovers staged by others in the past were "bad coups". He is sure he could pull off a "good coup", whatever that means.
I hope he hasn't given General Prayuth any ideas about a "good coup".
Dear General: Let's get this clear, once and for all: There is no such thing as a good coup, no matter who stages it. Or how one phrases it.